Porsche’s New 911 GT2
Put the fastest, most expensive Porsche 911 ever in the hands of a Maxim test driver at Daytona and you’re looking for trouble.
There’s something eerie and menacing about the Daytona International Speedway when its 165,000 seats are empty. In this historic thunderdome, which has witnessed so much glory and death, so much eardrum-shredding noise, silence grates on the nerves. I’m in the pit lane in the cockpit of Porsche’s new 911 GT2. Next to me sits Patrick Long, a Porsche factory team racer, who’s competed here at Daytona and at Le Mans among other places. Directly behind our seats, a 3.6-liter six-cylinder idles. My spine soaks up the engine’s throb. Sitting in this car, the fastest 911 ever (204 mph top speed), I can summon the power of 530 horses instantly with my toe. In roughly the time it will take you to read this sentence, I could break the speed limit on any road in America.
In front of us a monster awaits. Daytona’s banked turns are so steep (31 degrees), they’re difficult to walk up. See these turns on TV and the camera angles make them look tame. When you see them from ground level, they tower high. It’s like looking at a giant wave coming at you when you’re lying on a surfboard, infinitely more terrifying than it looks when your toes are in the sand. I turn to Long. A helmet conceals his red hair, and his facial expression asks the question:
“Well, kid, whatcha got?”
Shift into first, up easy on the clutch. The rubber grips the tarmac, and as we accelerate down the pit lane, I find myself thinking how wrong this experiment could go, and how quickly. So rare and expensive is this car ($191,700), only a select few will reach America, beginning this spring. So meaningful is this car, it embodies not just a company but a family legacy and a dream. What a shame it would be to wreck it.
A Look in the Rearview
Like people, every car possesses a unique character, with its own DNA, talents, and idiosyncrasies. Push it too hard and it’ll turn on you, as a person would. If it’s worth anything, it gets more interesting the more you get to know it.
As for the 911’s DNA, its ancestors were born on the racetracks of Europe in the 1930s. At that
time the continent was coiled tight with nationalistic tension. The French, Italians, English, and Germans, generally speaking, hated each other, and racetracks served as symbolic battlefields. Racing cars weren’t covered in endorsements as they are today (Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise!), but in colors: blue for France, green for England, red for Italy, and silver for Germany. Deutschland’s chancellor, Adolf Hitler, understood the symbolism of the checkered flag. He offered huge cash handouts to companies that could design machines that demonstrated German invincibility.
At Auto Union (now Audi), an engineer named Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had an idea: to mount an engine behind the cockpit of a racing car. This would keep the weight over the driving wheels and lighten the automobile, as the architecture that connected a front engine to the rear wheels could be eliminated. The car’s center of gravity could be lowered, improving handling. It was a revolutionary idea. And it worked. Along with Mercedes-Benz, the Auto Union mopped up the competition, to Hitler’s delight. “They were more than cars,” racing historian Robert Daley later wrote. “They were a warning, and every thinking man who saw them knew it.” We know what happened next.
After WWII, Ferdinand’s son Ferry launched Porsche, building on his father’s ideas. The first
Porsches appeared: the 356 and the 550 Spyder among them, the latter infamous today as the racing car in which James Dean killed himself. These cars were lightweight, rear-engined, and quick. But in the early ’60s, as the sports car market exploded, Porsche needed something more. They launched a new model in 1963, aiming to offer serious performance at a price lower than those of Jaguars and Ferraris. The name was originally 901, but Peugeot had a 901, so it changed to 911. The car had a wooden steering wheel and a rear-mounted 130 hp engine.
Cars come and go, but Porsche engineers have been perfecting this one automobile ever since. Today you can choose from fifteen 911 models. The pinnacle? The new limited-edition GT2, a car built for the track but road-ready, embodying 43 years of design research. As Porsche team racer Walter Röhrl put it: “This is the best 911 ever. Racecar, street car, the best.”
Shall we go for a ride?Thinking Fast
“Brake,” says Patrick Long, sitting in the passenger seat. “Brake. Brake!”
We’re hurtling past Daytona’s empty grand- stands, approaching a sharp left-hander that leads into the twisty infield road course. Not a lot of room for error here. The switchback is bordered by a waist-high concrete wall. I downshift rapidly: third, second. The aluminum brake calipers grip tight, the engine spits and moans, and as I turn the wheel the car glides around with ease. Do that in a Corolla and it’s Geico time.
The first thing that strikes you as you whip around these turns in the speedway’s infield is
the smooth transmission. My grandmother could work this six-speed stick. Second gear is good for 80 mph, and because the torque curve peaks like a plateau, you can be in the wrong gear
and still accelerate ferociously. It’s the pedal you need to worry about; 505 lb.-ft. of torque in
a car this light is NASA-worthy. Step too hard and you’ll bruise more than your ego.
To boost the GT2’s athleticism, designers put the 911 through an aggressive weight-loss program. All the fat’s been trimmed: most notably the rear seats. The front seats are padded carbon fiber/glass, the twin exhaust pipes are titanium, and light alloys are used in various parts of the engine and chassis. Every pound lost translates to more speed, and you can sense the agility instantly. (The Germans know a thing or two about lightening cars—in Dr. Ferdinand’s day, they shaved the paint off Grand Prix cars to save a few ounces, so the metal gleamed; that is why German cars are traditionally silver.) Still, none of the necessities have been nixed. You could drive this car on your morning commute. But this is no trip down I-95. As we speed out of a left-hander, the monster appears. Third gear, fourth, hard on the pedal. Just like that we’re tipped sideways.
Unless you’re a pro racer, you need balls of carbon fiber to scream into Daytona’s 31-degree banking without easing your foot off the pedal. The turn is 3,000 feet long. That’s plenty of time for mortality to speak to you. When you watch Jimmie Johnson on this banking on TV, it looks like a smooth ride. In reality the pavement is full of cracks, so the car’s rear tires jump around—unnerving when you’re moving well over 100 mph. The GT2’s suspension is tightly tuned; you feel every bump like you’re running your hand along the tarmac. (Porsche’s computer-controlled traction system will get you out of trouble should you lose your footing, but we wouldn’t rely on it.) As the end of the banked turn comes into sight, the back straight opens up.
“Hammer it!” Long orders.
When I hit the pedal, the G-force hurls us back into our seats. Two turbochargers and six injectors shove fuel and oxygen into the six cylinders. Those titanium pipes blast the beautiful exhaust note. How fast are we going? No idea—I’m too busy to eye the speedometer.
A few more laps and we’re back in the pit lane. When I step out of the cockpit, I’m drenched in sweat. I look at the car—its aggressive stance, the fixed rear wing, those awesome yellow brake calipers peeking through the wheels. I get the bittersweet feeling I’ve just had the one-night stand of a lifetime. The next time I lay eyes on this rare beauty, if ever, she’ll be in some other (richer) man’s hands. We’ll always have Daytona.